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UW Coach Petersen's Feud With ESPN Prompts Questions About Its Power Over Playoffs

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
UW head football coach Chris Petersen watches from the sideline during a game against Montana, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Seattle. Washington won 63-7.

The University of Washington football team has another late start this weekend. Just like last weekend against Cal, the Huskies’ game at Arizona State begins at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday.

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel says the late starts have prompted some pushback from Washington coach Chris Petersen and sparked a feud with ESPN.

Cupcake Comparison

Before last weekend's game against Cal, Petersen used his weekly press briefing to apologize to Husky fans about the late starts. That prompted Thiel to ask him a question.

"I asked him, 'Why are you lending your voice to this now? Because this has been a six-year issue with the invention of the Pac-12 Networks that are trying to scatter these games across the clock on Saturdays?'"

"And he says, 'I don't even think they kind of care about what us coaches think.'"

"Come to watch the game on Saturday and ESPN is launching snarky remarks in his general direction."

"The play-by-play broadcaster described Petersen as 'irascible and somewhat cantankerous.'"

"Kirk Herbstreit, who co-hosts the very popular Saturday morning GameDay show, said that Chris Petersen ought to be 'thankful that ESPN deigns to cover their games.'"

"Then in the broadcast, they had this goofy episode where the sideline reporter put down three cupcakes on the ground."

Theil said the cupcakes were in reference to UW's "soft" non-conference opponents this season. The reporter hinted that it could impact whether Washington is selected for the four-team College Football Playoffs this year (as they were last year).

"It was a very snarky thing to do and very surprising that ESPN would do something like that," Theil said. "But it did cause national attention."

Does ESPN Have Power Over The Playoffs?

"College football owes its success to ESPN," Thiel continued.

"They give it lots of time and because they give it so much money, they can dictate that teams can play on Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday, or Tuesday."

"No one knows yet whether ESPN would influence the selectors (of the college football playoffs). And I don't think you're going to find an email or a voicemail that's going to say that."

"But I think all the people involved in the selection process know how important ESPN is to the process. And if ESPN says 'You know, we really don't like those Huskies because of what Petersen said,' it could be very influential. At least, conspiracy theorists would think that way."

"The only insurance they have against this conspiracy is to go 12-0. ESPN cannot possibly influence a 12-0 team out of the four-team playoff."

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel with iTunes orGoogle Play now. You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.